It is a day of mourning at Bebe’s house. She has lost her husband and land to Partition. Left with only a house and a stable, Bebe, the protective family matriarch, forbids her four daughters from stepping out of the house. The eldest daughter can only talk to her fiancé through the window. The other sisters are jealous, they have no contact with the outside world, and no hope therefore of finding a partner.

What ensues is a chain of events that explores themes of tradition, authorit-arianism and oppression. The dark, intense mood in Bebe Ka Chamba is offset to some extent by songs composed by Punjabi folk singer Madanbala Sindhu, as well as a gidda folk dance.

This play by the New Delhi-based Katyayani theatre group will be staged
in the Capital on 8 March, as part of International Women’s Day celebrations, by the Spanish embassy.

This is the fourth time the play is being staged in New Delhi since it first opened in November. The 90-minute play, based on Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca’s The House Of Bernarda Alba, has been adapted in Hindustani and Punjabi by Neena Wagh.

“Though the play is set in the newly partitioned Punjab, it deals with emotions that women face even today and shows what they go through when deprived of freedom," says director Sohaila Kapur. “Putting restrictions is not a solution when it comes to children, especially daughters. It only results in aggression and revolt," she adds.

Describing the matriarch’s character, Kapur says: “She tries to keep up the hope of marriage in the household by giving her daughters cloth to make dresses for dowry, but her children know it’s all a pretence."

The house has another family member: 80-year-old Jhaiji (paternal grandmother).

Always decked up in wedding finery and jewellery, Jhaiji wants Bebe to find her a suitable match. “Jhaiji is suffering from dementia. Her memory comes back in flashes and then she talks to the audience about the atrocities inflicted upon women during Partition," says Sindhu, who plays the role of Jhaiji. “She tells Bebe that her daughters will never get married since she has held them captive," adds Sindhu.

Kapur explains the difference in mindset between the two characters: “There’s a scene in the play where Jhaiji tells Bebe, ‘If you take away freedom from a person, you take away their basic right to live’."

Referring to the play’s title, the director says: “Bebe Ka Chamba means Bebe’s garden, a garden where the flowers (her daughters) are wilting because of lack of freedom to thrive, but instead of dying they are fighting for survival."

Bebe Ka Chamba will be staged on 8 March, 6.30pm, at Instituto Cervantes, Hanuman Road, Connaught Place (43681900), and on 17 March, 6.30pm, at Shri Ram Centre, Mandi House (23731112). Entry on first-come, first-served basis.

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